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The first fatal flaw of lead generation: bad headlines

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Do hot leads call when you promote your services? No? Well, there are a limited number of ways to advertise correctly but nearly infinite ways to mess up. Is it possible to stop buying expensive leads and get your phone ringing with your own exclusive prospects? Yes, if you learn and apply the fundamentals of marketing. The three cannot-be-left-out basics of an effective ad are:

  1. An offer
  2. A deadline
  3. A headline

Let’s address headlines.

I consider a bad headline — or none at all — “the first fatal flaw” of lead generation advertising. Why? Without a good headline, chances are slim-to-none that anyone will notice any other mistake in your ad because it won’t be read. Your headline is the most important element in your ad. Yes, I do mean that. A headline is that crucial. You can do a so-so job of the other elements and still possibly get a few responses. Not so if you mess up the headline.

Try this: grab a magazine or newspaper – any variety that is handy right now — and look through it. Do it now, really. Did you start with the cover and read every single word, page by page? No. Your instinct was to look for what applied to you, what was interesting, what promised a benefit you wanted. You accomplish that task by scanning headlines.

People are way, way too busy to read the entirety of everything they come across. In a person’s personal and professional life they are deluged with information including ads on the radio, TV, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, in their inbox and mailbox. There is absolutely no way to read every sentence of each piece. Impossible. Crazy.

So, how do they sort through the mass of stuff vying for their attention? Reading headlines — just like you did, if you performed the experiment above. They check out headlines to determine IF something is worth the time to read more.

A book’s title is a headline for its content. A (nonfiction) table of contents is simply a list of headlines for chapters.

Why are your advertising results dismal?

You can have a great message sent to a carefully targeted niche audience and still get zero response. You may be the best advisor in town with a plethora of designations after your name and still be struggling to find prospects. Effective lead generation advertising starts with a great headline.  What does yours say?

Must every marketing piece have a headline? Yes. Post cards, sales letters, webpages, yellow page and display ads. For emails it is the subject line. For a radio or TV spot, it is the first words spoken. Every promotional piece should have a headline.

Bad headlines

So how do you craft a good headline? Let’s start by examining a few common, but bad, ones.

Free Quote! (Nah. Everyone knows they can call an agent for the price of insurance without paying a dime. Duh.)

[Your agency name] (So what? Why should a prospect care what you named the company? It’s not the least bit interesting to them.)

Lowest Rates! (Yah right. Every agent says that. Boring .Over-used.)

Retirement Planning (Huh? What does that mean to the average Joe?)

Ranked A+ Excellent by AM Best! (Who cares? Can you solve their problems? That’s what they want to know.)

Good headlines

If your ads look anything like the ones I see in my mailbox, in the phone book and on websites from other agents — you need help. A good headline should grab attention. It should promise a benefit or solution. It answers the all-important question,What’s in it for me? Here are a few great headlines as examples:

  • Free Report Shows You How to Preserve Your Capital and Never Outlive Your Retirement Savings
  • If You’re on Medicare You May Be Able to Save 40% on Supplement Insurance!
  • Free Report! How to Protect Your Assets from Creditors, Predators and Opportunists
  • How One Inexpensive Change to Your Auto Policy Can Save Thousands of Dollars on a Claim!
  • Bring in Your Brokerage Statements and I’ll Show You the Hidden Fees You Didn’t Even Know About!
  • 11 Ways to Lower Your Homeowners Insurance Costs
  • Fax Over Your Workers’ Compensation Statement and We’ll Show You How to Save 11%!
  • Who Else Wants to Fund Their Retirement Savings and Long Term Care with the Exact Same Dollar?
  • Thousands Are Underinsured Even After an “Ordinary” Policy Review!
  • Homeowners: Do Your Assets Exceed Your Liability Protection Coverage?
  • Will Your Assets Go Through Probate While Your Family Struggles Financially?
  • 3 Questions You Must Ask BeforeRolling Over Your 401(k)
  • Give Me 30 Minutes and I’ll Show You How to Increase the Return on Your Investments WITHOUT Increasing Risks!

How could you apply these ideas to your promotion?  Use them as a template by switching out the words to match your products and service. A headline is your first impression with a prospect. If done poorly or omitted, it could be your last opportunity as they skip over your ad to read something else.

How do you avoid some pitfalls of writing headlines?

  • Don’t over-use superlatives. Words like “best ever,” “amazing,” and “incredible” better be true or you will lose credibility. That’s a bad start for a client relationship. Hype will turn prospects off, not on.
  • The rest of your ad should be in line with and deliver on the headline. If you get their attention about auto insurance, don’t switch to home insurance in the ad.
  • Don’t make subtle or obscure references. You have about three seconds before they move on. If they have to think too much, they’ll ignore your message entirely.

A successful headline will instantly convey to your ideal prospect a benefit or solution. Their response should be, “Gee this is interesting. I want to know more.” Look at your ad from the viewpoint of your future client. Does it do that? If not, go back to the drawing board with fresh eyes and give it another go. Write dozens or hundreds (the professionals do) until you come up with a headline that will gain positive attention.

© 2012 Victoria Eden. All rights reserved.

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